Revisiting the Park: Navigating the waters off Madison Park

Revisiting the Park: Navigating the waters off Madison Park

Revisiting the Park: Navigating the waters off Madison Park

The kids of Madison Park enjoyed the shallow waters of Little Beach, north of Madison. It became known as Swing Park later when the swings were put in. The official name is Madison Park North Beach.

While splashing about, we nurtured ideas of venturing into other areas of Lake Washington and began to build rafts from logs and scrap wood from Clayton Fishers’ Marina just south of Little Beach.

Never far from shore, small waves would all but destroy our efforts. The easiest place for rafting with only a couple logs tied together was in the swamps in the Canterbury area. All we needed, really, was a plan. A few of us saw a seldom-seen matinee downtown about a group of pioneers in need of something to ride the cascading wild rivers. They felled a huge tree and carved a mighty canoe with makeshift tools.  

Aha! That would be our plan. We found the log, the very log for the three of us, off the shores of Edgewater where many anchored boats were left due to the fuel shortage in World War II. After a trip to the hardware store, we began to design and build a bow and stern.

The quest began in the nights after school and on weekends, but we barely made a dent in the carving. That was when it dawned on us the log in the movie was shot with time lapse and editing.  

Down, but not out, we found a partially sunk 12-foot row boat on Edgewater Beach for sale for $25.  Bob Olson, a schoolmate, settled on $20, and we became boat owners! Bill Buchan, owner of the Boat Building Company by the ferry dock, gave us advice on caulking, painting, etc. We bought supplies at the hardware store and began the task of caulking, making sure it was dry, sanding, replacing some wood and, finally, painting. Voila! Shiny, bright, white and blue and ready to conquer the lake. A real find was when my grandfather gave us a Johnson 5 HP outboard!

Our first cruise was through the jungle of cattails in Edgewater, then west of Broadmoor and Monkey Island, which I think is long gone now.  We did have some mechanical issues — seaweed in our propeller.

The second voyage was north around the huge log boom in the cut where old houseboats ended up in Lake Union. On the north side by the University of Washington stadium was a garbage dump.

“All the UW property between Hec Edmundson Pavilion and U. Village, and between Lake Washington and Montlake Boulevard, was once the destination for 66 percent of Seattle’s garbage,” according to a University of Washington webpage on the landfill,

From the water, hidden in the cattails, we watched people try to back small trailers of refuse while others yelled, “No! Turn the other way!” The language was a bit much for us youngsters.  

All that is left today of that dumping area is pipes poking above ground emitting methane gas from fumes far below. Despite it being a dump, the water was so clear we could see the debris on the bottom of the cut.  

“The landfill — commonly referred to as the Montlake or Ravenna landfill — was operated from 1926 to 1966, and was Seattle’s largest dump until, in 1966, it was covered and the UW began to build,” according to the University of Washington webpage on the landfill.

Not having had a chance to put our sea skills to test, we decided on our third adventure. From Madison Park dock, you could see big ships anchored or tied to pilings off the shores of Bellevue. This would be an open water charter, but being our 12-footer had little free board, only smooth seas would work. This could also be an all-nighter.

It was a perfect Friday night. As the sun set west, we entered the lake under darkness on still waters eastward to our first open water experience. Midway, we stopped and listened to the total silence on the lake. We drew closer to an old three-masted schooner that was listing to one side and were amazed by its size — much larger than in any movie. Cruising around it, we saw a rope and wooden steps hanging from the first deck. Fortunately, the ship tilted on the ladder side, making it an easier climb. It was still a long way up.

With sleeping bags on our backs, flash lights and snacks, we climbed aboard. We dared each other by flipping coins who would be the first to climb the large ropes about as big as our hands to the crow’s nest just three sails away.

The fortunate one started off. How lucky he was. Imagine the view! He did not climb as fast as actors in movies, and those guys did it with swords in their mouths. We all laughed nervously; he made it, but only half way to the first sail. He said later he kept looking at us and how little our boat looked. I wondered if he fell would he just fall through our boat and surface untouched like in the movies.  

Well, so much for that, let’s go below deck. Flash lights in hand, we walked down some rickety stairs almost to the first landing when we heard something run through the shallow water. A few more steps and we were back on the main deck not feeling heroic. Before bedding down, we jammed the hatch just in case whatever ran through the water decided to go topside.

Early pre-dawn after a light sleep, we feasted and cruised around the other ships. There was little need to be quiet as there were few houses to be seen. One vessel sat a little below the water line. We climbed aboard while trying not to be seen. Another boat resembled an old tug boat. All of these boats would be moved once fuel became available. There were many inactive boats and ships, but also in various neighborhoods, cars and trucks were stilled. Carpools were the only way to transport and had to be by permit.

This voyage was somewhat uneventful but was great for show-and-tell at school. The adventures continued when we heard about the Sammamish Slough.  

To be continued…